As it is New Year’s Eve, I have decided to share something different. This is the first chapter of The King’s Magic. So far, I have only written the first book. I would imagine it would have two books, but I’ve been wrong before. The first book is written. It’s been a lot of fun to write.
Ludvig’s head shot up and he stared into the nothing before him as the sound of two newborns crying came to his ears. One was expected. Upstairs in the castle, Queen Regina was giving birth to her first child. It would be a boy, and she would name him Ivan.
The other cry came from somewhere outside the castle, far away, but still within the boundaries of Tempkey. The children had been born at the same exact moment. Ludvig was sure of it. He closed his eyes and felt the energy around him.
It was the Fall Equinox, and both children had been born at the exact moment the sun disappeared from the horizon. A son born to a royal family, strong in energy. Outside the castle, somewhere, a girl had been born. She too would have strong energy, but would not know it for years to come. An evil little smile graced Ludvig’s thin lips. The future his family had seen long ago was coming to fruition.
The baby screamed as it was pulled into the world. The midwife looked down at the child long enough to find out the sex, and turned to the mother. Mara called to Sissy, her daughter and assistant, handed her the child, and ran to the mother.
The woman’s eyes were closed and every time she exhaled, a little blood came out.
“Miss!” Mara cried again, wishing she knew the woman’s name. She had been called out here just moments ago to help with the birth. The tavern keeper – if he could even be called that – pointed to the back room upon Mara’s arrival and told her to take care of it.
By that point, the mother was screaming in pain, beyond the ability to speak. The baby was crowning and Mara had no time for pleasantries. Mara tried to call out to the mother again, to get her name, or perhaps let her know the baby was alive, but Sissy called out to her.
“Mother! She’s bleeding!”
This was not Sissy’s first birthing. She would not cry out like that if it weren’t important. Mara ran to the end of the bed and looked down. “Oh dear gods!”
The bed was soaked in blood. Mara looked to the mother’s face and watched as the woman passed on, knowing there was nothing she could do. The second the mother died, the baby started to scream louder. Mara turned to Sissy and the baby and took the child in her arms.
“Dear child, what are we going to do with you?”
“Won’t they raise her here?” Sissy’s voice was quiet.
Mara was torn. This wasn’t a good tavern. Men frequented this place, without their wives. It was really more of a brothel than a tavern. The child in her arms shouldn’t be raised in this environment. She looked down at the child. Mara knew that she could raise the child, but did she really want to? The baby stopped crying finally and looked to Mara. For a moment her eyes opened and Mara knew she couldn’t leave the girl here.
She looked to Sissy. “Take the child. Hide her under your cloak. We’re taking her home.”
Sissy stared wide-eyed at her usually rational mother. “But…”
“No arguments. We can’t leave her here. Go.”
Sissy nodded, took the child, then Mara helped her put on her cloak. They arranged the overly large cloak to hide the child in Sissy’s arms. Once she was all set, Mara let her out the back. The young woman ran as soon as she could. Mara watched her daughter leave then allowed the back door to close as she headed to the front of the tavern. The owner immediately saw her and came to her.
“What happened? I expected to hear the nasty brat crying for days on end.”
“Mother and child are dead.” The lie rolled effortlessly off her tongue. She was surprised, as she usually didn’t lie.
“Pity. She brought in a lot of,” the large scruffy man paused as he looked away from Mara, “customers. She was well liked.”
“I can send for the morticians. If you need.”
The man shook his head, as he reached into his pocket. He handed her some gold coins. “Just take the baby’s body out of here. Leave the woman. We’ll give her a burial here.”
Mara took the coins, went back into the room and cleaned up the best she could. She bundled up some rags to make it look like she had the child and left out the front. There had been a hard frost for the past three mornings. The ground was frozen solid already. She had no idea what they were going to do with the woman’s body, but they couldn’t bury it. Mara shuddered as she left the tavern and headed home. No child should be raised in that environment.
Constance ran after the boys, unable to keep up because of her dress. She tripped and fell in the mud, and when she got up, she called out to her cousins. They kept running. Scowl on her face, Connie stumbled back to the house. She stepped into the kitchen and immediately went to Sissy.
“They won’t stop!”
Sissy looked down at the young girl in horror. The front of her dress was covered in mud. “Did someone push you?”
“No. Fell. Can’t keep up. I want to dress like the boys!”
Sissy frowned. “Connie, you can’t do that.”
Mara piped up from the other side of the kitchen, where she was preparing lunch. “Oh, let her. Put her in Teddy’s old clothing. Those should fit.”
“Mother! You never wanted us to do that.” Sissy sounded a bit surprised.
“Yes, but when you were growing up, there were four other girls for you to play with. And the neighborhood boys were rough. Constance only has her male cousins to play with. And they’re a lot nicer than the boys from when you were a child.” Mara shrugged. “Go ahead. Let her play.”
Sissy frowned. Every time something odd came up with Constance, Mara let it slide. For anyone other than Constance, Mara held her ground. She seemed to favor the child over her own blood. Sissy wanted to argue, but knew it was no good. She took Constance’s hand and went to change the girl into play clothes.
“We can’t keep her here. With mother gone, we barely have enough to feed our children.”
Tom glared at his wife, then quickly looked out the open kitchen door. The children weren’t close enough to hear. He nodded and went to sit by his wife.
“Sissy, she’s nine.”
“That’s old enough to take care of herself. I was learning how to be a midwife at that age. She can learn a trade.” Sissy’s hard tone made Tom cringe a bit.
“I’ve never understood why you have so much hatred for the girl.”
Sissy’s face screwed into a frown. “Mother was always so easy with her. Never let her get into trouble. The girl is a brat! She’s a dead whore’s child! Fatherless, nameless, she doesn’t belong with decent folks!”
“Sissy!” He took her hand. “Keep your voice down. The children might hear.”
“They went off to swim in the river. They won’t hear us.”
“Let it go, Sissy. We’re fine. The crops are good this year. We can sell everything for a good profit, and with your job as midwife, we have enough to take care of them all.”
Sissy glared at her husband. She didn’t want that child in her house anymore, but what was she to do? Her husband loved the child as Mara had. She sighed. “Fine.” She glanced at the door. “What was that?”
Tom looked to the door. “I heard nothing.”
At the door in Teddy’s hand me down shirts and pants, Connie glared at the two adults. They couldn’t see her, not if she didn’t want them to. She stood at the door, hands at her sides, in fists. Sissy never liked her. She knew that, but now with Mara gone, Sissy might actually kick her out. Connie knew this world was harsh, but that was all right. She could do things no one could.
Two years later
The man shook his head. “She’s too young.”
Sissy glared at the man. “You’ve taken younger. I know you have.”
The man in grubby shirt and pants stared at Sissy, then finally answered. “We have, but there’s usually something about them that stands out. She looks like a boy and she has brown hair and eyes. There’s nothing special about her.” He shook his head. “Not taking her. When she starts filling out, then we can talk.”
“How much? When she’s ready?”
The man stared at Sissy then shrugged. “I’ve given as much as 20 gold for a girl before.”
Sissy nodded. “All right. Thank you.”
The man looked her up and down. “If you’re looking for some extra money now…”
Sissy looked down at the mug in front of her on the kitchen table, then back at him. “How much?”
The man grinned and leaned in to discuss business. Neither noticed 11-year-old Connie as she snuck into the kitchen and took the man’s coin purse. She didn’t try to hide her actions, she just walked in, grabbed the purse and walked out.
Outside, she looked at the purse. She wanted to leave this place but knew she couldn’t. Sissy hated her, treated her like dirt. Yes, she was fed, and clothed and had a place to sleep, but that was it. Sissy never spoke kindly to her, had taken to hitting her if she wasn’t paying attention. Now, it sounded as if the woman wanted to sell her.
Connie knew she had to leave this place before the man decided she was worth it. But now was not the time. She stepped to the man’s horse, placed the purse in the saddlebag and walked away. By the time she was in the sunlight, she could feel that people would be able to see her.
She didn’t know why this happened, but ever since she could remember, Connie could hide from others in plain sight. It was as if she were invisible. It started just about the same time the dreams started. The dreams of him.
In her dreams, a boy with blue eyes and black hair smiled to her, or would hold out his hand to her, always inviting her to join him. She wanted to, and tried to find him in the waking world, but as of yet, had not found him.
Connie sighed and realized she was far enough from the house that the other children wouldn’t find her. She was in the Morgan’s fields, across the way from Sissy and Tom’s field. She leaned against a tree and wondered what to do.
She needed to learn a trade, like Sissy often told her, but what could she do? Her only true skill was her ability to turn invisible, but she didn’t know how reliable that was. Connie sighed again and sat down on the ground. Her thoughts consumed her, and she tried to piece together what she should do about her situation.
One year later
Connie lay on her bed, listening to Sissy and Tom in the kitchen. They thought she was asleep, but she wasn’t. They drank ambrosia almost every night now and became louder as the bottle became emptier. Six months ago, Tom brought a bottle home. Where he found it, he wouldn’t say. Since then, it was all Sissy and Tom could talk about.
Teddy stole an almost empty bottle of it one morning and shared with his cousins. Connie tried it and wondered what the fuss was. Sure, the berry liquor was good, but it didn’t seem to have the same effect on her as it did everyone else. She stayed away from it, as did the other children. Sissy found out about the bottle and threw a fit. She punished Connie more than she punished her own children, but Connie was used to it.
Things had gotten worse since they discovered ambrosia. Sissy made Connie do all the housework while she nursed a hangover. Tom spent most of his days in the fields, regardless of how he felt, but his work was sloppy. Teddy and the others tried to help Constance but seemed more interested in playing. And as Tom didn’t insist they should be in the field, her cousins never did any work.
Connie knew she was adopted. Sissy never failed to remind her. Mara often told Sissy to stop, but it was obvious to Connie that she wasn’t Mara’s child. It wasn’t that they looked too different, she just knew. Something inside her told her these people weren’t her family, even if they took care of her.
None of it mattered now, not with what Sissy was saying. Connie lay in her bed, her eyes open, as the conversation came to her ears.
“We can’t. It’s not right.” Tom was still being kind.
“We can get money for her, Tom. Gold. He’s seen her and he likes her.”
“This isn’t right.”
“30 gold, Tom. 30.”
The room grew quiet for overly long. “30?”
“I can probably get more. She’s never been touched. We could pay all our taxes and have a lot left over for…”
Connie heard the sound of a bottle being scraped across the table, as if the hand lifting it couldn’t take the weight.
“That’s a lot of money.” The reluctance in his voice had vanished.
Connie closed her eyes to stop the threatening tears. Sissy had convinced Tom. It was time to leave.
When the man came the next morning, Connie made sure she was near the house. She snuck close to the kitchen and listened to the man and Sissy. She found it odd that Sissy never used the man’s name.
“How much?” Sissy sounded upset.
“You said more than that last week.”
“Last week I had someone who wanted her.”
“Let me see her.”
“Connie! Can you come here? There’s someone that wants to meet you. May be able to teach you a trade.” Her voice dropped a bit. “Have you help a bit more around the house.”
Connie waited a moment then walked in. She plastered a fake smile on her face. “What is it, Sissy?”
The man turned to her and she felt an instant dislike. He was dressed well, like a nobleman almost. His hair was plastered back onto his head, he had all his teeth, and his shirt and pants were clean and crisp. This wasn’t the same man as a few years ago.
He stood over her, almost towering over her, staring down into her eyes. When he reached out to touch her, she did her best not to draw away. She needed Sissy to think that everything was ok.
When the man touched her, she wanted to scream. Everything within her was telling her he was dangerous and would cause her nothing but harm. She set her jaw, planted her feet and allowed him to look at her teeth. He then turned her around.
“How can I tell what she looks like? She dresses like a boy.”
“Constance, go put on that dress I made you.”
She thought about saying no, about running out the door now, but Connie knew that would do her no good. If she ran, she was sure they would chase her down. She nodded and went into her bedroom. She left the door partially opened but stayed out of sight. Connie took off her shoes, placed them in a travel bag she had prepared the night before, and dropped the bag outside the window, into the bushes.
Then standing near the door, but out of line of sight, Connie took deep breaths and closed her eyes. Sometimes going invisible worked, sometimes it didn’t. When she felt something within her shift, she opened her eyes and walked confidently into the kitchen. She didn’t open the door, did everything she could to be quiet and waited.
Sissy and the man were still talking, unconcerned by her presence. She walked closer to the man, and when she realized they couldn’t see her, she reached out and carefully lifted his heavy coin purse. Connie slipped the purse into her pocket, turned and went back into her bedroom.
Once in the bedroom, Connie slipped out the window, put on her pack and left. She didn’t know where she was going, but she knew what she was going to do. There were Thieves Guilds in Tempkey. She was going to join one. Who wouldn’t want a thief that could go invisible?
Carson looked the boy up and down, taking in his loose shirt, ill-fitting pants and old boots. “You think you have what it takes?”
“I do.” Connie looked Carson in the eye, knowing she was making the right choice. She had been traveling for some time now, going from town to town, looking for the right guild. This was it. She also liked the fact that Varan, the city she was in, was halfway across the kingdom from where Sissy and Tom lived.
“I don’t take riff raff off the street. You have to come recommended.” Carson sat up and looked the boy in the eye. He wasn’t much to look at, smaller than most boys his age, but that was seen as an advantage most times. Smaller boys could hide easier.
“I heard that since I haven’t been recommended to you, you have a test. Put me through it. See how well I can do.”
They had been talking for a half an hour now, going back and forth. Carson was impressed with the boy, as he didn’t once say the words thief, steal, guild, or any related words. Secrecy was key in this business. Carson never took anyone that couldn’t keep their mouths shut, or that didn’t have the right temperament. Another reason the first interview was so long was to see what the person would do when standing for long periods of time. So far, Connie did well.
“What kind of name is Connie for a boy?”
Connie smirked. “Short for Conrad.”
Carson liked that smirk and answered it with his own. “All right. There are three tests. The first: there is a secret panel in this office. Find it.”
Carson picked his 6-foot frame out of the wooden chair and walked out of the room. Once he was gone, Connie breathed a sigh of relief. The man was unnerving, with his unkempt brown hair and sea green eyes. She had hit puberty a few months ago and ever since then, she found it hard to be around men. It wasn’t that she didn’t like them. On the contrary, she found herself attracted to most men. It was an annoyance. She was too young to think about men in that way.
Constance shook her head and started looking around the room. She didn’t move much, only turned around and surveyed everything. There was not much: a desk, one chair, a cupboard, and a side table. The desk and side table held knickknacks, but nothing fancy. Vases mostly. The cupboard held swords and knives, most were rusted, but the handles were beautifully carved. The weapons were obviously obtained for their handles and not for use.
As she observed the cutlery, she noticed that one handle was just a little more worn than the others, and the color of the wood behind that particular knife was darker than the others around it. Frowning, Connie went to the cupboard and opened the door. She reached in, tried to move the knife and almost laughed when something clicked.
She looked down to the ledge halfway up the cupboard, found the secret panel on the ledge, and opened it. There was nothing inside, which didn’t surprise her. Connie made sure to leave the panel completely open then moved away from the cupboard. That was way too easy to find. Frowning, she wondered if there were any other hidden panels in the room.
Carson came back in an hour later to find Connie sitting in his chair, his feet on the desk and grinning from ear to ear. Carson looked around his office and found five of his six hidden panels open. The contents of all the panels were laid out on his desk.
He nodded. “Impressive. Get out of my chair.”
Connie grinned further and did as told.
“Most stop at one.”
Connie shrugged. “The first was too easy to find.”
“Surprised you didn’t find the sixth. Some of the other ones are harder to find.”
She shrugged again. She’d found the sixth one, but it felt off. As if there was something wrong with it, perhaps a trap. She’d left it alone, understanding that five out of six would probably do the trick.
Carson looked the boy up and down and told him the truth. “The sixth one is protected by a spell.”
She frowned softly. Why had she known that?
He held his hands up. “Don’t get the wrong idea. I know conjuring is illegal. That spell came with the office.”
She gave a conspirator’s smile. “Isn’t that convenient?”
Carson laughed and knew he could trust the boy. “All right. My assistant will give the next test to you. He’s waiting for you outside.”
Connie smiled and left the room.
Carson sat at his desk, hand hiding his mouth, staring at the vase on his desk. He had to admit, Connie impressed him. A lot. The boy stole a vase from Lord Pincherbit’s estates, and it only took him three days to do it. Most of the candidates that came his way gave up after trying for weeks on end.
Lord Pincherbit loved vases, but so did Carson. Lord Pincherbit bought vases from all over the kingdom, and other kingdoms as well, and showed them off and horded them. Carson had seen the collection too many times to count. They weren’t friends, the lord didn’t even know who he was, but Carson had seen the collection countless times, nonetheless. Any time there was a showing Carson was there.
The most prized vase of the collection was a small one carved out of emerald. It was worth more than any other vase in Pincherbit’s collection. It stood about a foot tall, and six inches wide. It had intricate flowers carved all over it and had a lid shaped like a leaf sitting on top, looking like a stiff wind could knock it off.
It was rumored to be worth more than anything in the kingdom of Tempkey. And now, it sat on Carson’s desk, throwing green shadows on the wall where the light hit it.
Connie smirked. “I don’t tell my trade secrets.”
She had been prepared to tell him about her abilities. In her year of traveling, Constance kept to herself and didn’t listen to the gossip much. By now, there weren’t a lot of conjurers to be found. After Carson told her about the sixth panel being hidden by the spell, she knew she had to find out more. He seemed reluctant to be held responsible for the spell. Now she knew why and wondered why she hadn’t heard about it before.
Conjurers were killed on sight, in some instances. Others were beaten and thrown in dungeons. There weren’t many conjurers left in the world, therefore it was easy not to hear about their treatment. Knowing her invisibility would be seen as a spell, Constance was very careful to use it now. She never told anyone about it and wasn’t about to start. She would still use it, but it was her secret to keep.
Carson nodded. “All right, but the last test is to tell me a secret. It’s how I keep myself safe.”
She nodded. “I have a secret that’s better than how I was able to steal that vase.”
He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “Oh?”
“I’m a girl.”
He stared at her for a moment, wondering how to proceed, then just shook his head. “That’s not something I can easily verify. I mean I could but,” he shook his head. “How old are you?”
“I’ll be 14 soon.” If soon meant 11 months.
Carson’s eyes went wide. “No. No, I’m not checking on that.”
Constance smiled. “My name is Constance, not Conrad. Do you know how many men I’ve stood before who would check on my secret without a second thought? How many would touch me, no matter my age?”
“Unfortunately, I do.”
“I’m a woman. You can choose to believe me or not. But either way, I thank you for not being the kind of man who would check.”
He nodded. “I’ll believe you. At some point you’ll be old enough for me to check. Then, I’ll know the truth.”
Constance laughed, knowing full well this man would never see her naked or have a chance to touch her. She was still dreaming of the boy with blue eyes and dark hair every night. At least twice a night. She had been dreaming about him for so long. She knew if he existed, he was the only man who would have her body. Though he was only a dream, she was already in love with the boy.
Carson leaned forward in his chair, gaining her attention. “All right. You’re in. Go talk to my assistant and find out what to do.”
She bowed to Carson and left the room.